After critical audits, the federal government said Wednesday that it would substantially tighten the certification process for products bearing the Energy Star label, its stamp of approval for an energy-efficient product.
The EnergyStar label is the government's sign of approval for energy-efficient products.
Over the last six months, the Government Accountability Office and the Energy Department’s inspector general issued reports detailing significant failings with the process. The G.A.O. found, for example, that the Energy Star program had granted the label to nonexistent products, including a “gasoline-powered alarm clock,” submitted by auditors posing as manufacturers.
The Energy Star program is jointly managed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department. Under new rules issued by both agencies and effective immediately, the approval process for appliances will no longer be automated, and a staff member will review each application.
Manufacturers must submit complete lab test results of their products before applying for Energy Star certification. And companies will be unable to put the Energy Star logo on products that have not been specifically approved.
In a March 26 report, the accountability office said it had discovered that once a company registered as an Energy Star partner, it could download the logo from a government Web site and attach it to products for which it had not even requested approval.
By the end of the year, the government said, all tests submitted by manufacturers will have to be from independent certified labs. Until now, that had been the case for only some categories of products, including windows, doors and compact fluorescent lighting.
Neither the Energy Department nor the Environmental Protection Agency could say on Wednesday just how many of the 40,000 products already bearing the label had been tested by third parties and would have to be brought into compliance.
Consumers rely on the labels to determine whether they are choosing appliances that use less energy and thus save them money in the long term. And tax breaks are sometimes available for Energy Star products consumers buy as part of a broader government effort to encourage Americans to consume less fuel.
Under President Obama’s federal stimulus package, for example, rebates totaling $300 million were available to consumers who bought Energy Star appliances.
Government officials predicted that the new requirements would bolster the Energy Star’s credibility. “The safeguards we’re putting into effect are essential for the millions of consumers who rely on Energy Star products to help save energy, money and the environment,” Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A.’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, said in a news release.
Gregory H. Friedman, the Energy Department inspector general, who oversaw the recent audit, expressed guarded approval. “If executed as described in the press release, it looks like this is a significant change to the process, which appears to address many of the issues we’ve raised in the past,” he said, adding the issue was whether they would follow through.
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